Active Tranquility

“Grandma, let me do it.”

I pause and turn towards Carmen, who, at age 4, loves to help me with chores. She sees me throwing in laundry and runs over.

“Get your chair to stand on and you can throw things in too.”

“OK!” I pass her the clothes and she drops them in. How seamless is this activity. I have her often so Mom can work and study. I discover that these chores are fun for her, and I tend to get more of them done while she’s around.

Something important happens here. A child is happy, feels loved, learns to focus and help out. No wagging fingers or admonishments. Truth be told, at times nudges are needed. As much as possible, this flow works. Plus, I get a lot done and enjoy myself.

The other day, we did chores together. After the laundry, we planted flowers and watered them. Then we looked for the frog in the pond. We watched the spinach grow in a pot on the deck. The girl who won’t eat vegetables at a meal, happily thins out the spinach and gobbles it steadily with her fingers. I feel a tingle of happiness at this rhythm. I could do all these things on my own but may have found reasons to put off some of the tasks. With her, we get into a rhythm. 

In the few days before, I prepared to host a meditation gathering with a focus on the tranquil mind. I reread  a section of a chapter about the tranquil mind. I was thinking about it as I did chores with Carmen. I slowed down my mental commentary while with her and tuned towards the tranquility I experienced behind the actions. 

Women have done this type of child and household care for centuries. Some ancient cultures revered and relied upon women for this capacity. I’d like to see our culture honor women’s domestic work. In the simplest of ways these tasks give children a sense of joy in learning and helping, as well as security and focus. There is no way to put a monetary value on this.

When we finished the planting, I found myself heading to a chair under the redbud tree to rest my grandma bones. Carmen came right over and climbed into my lap. I encircled her as a light breeze swept our faces. 

She turned to look up at me and asked, “Do you like the wind Grandma?”
“Yes I do,” I said. 

“I do too.”

I heard the birds chirping and swooping back and forth, robins, sparrows and even a mockingbird. This animated 4-year-old sat with me for at least 20 minutes. For much of the time we were blissfully quiet. 

She looked up at me again and said, “I love you, Grandma.”
“I love you too, Carmen.”

My half-conscious image of “tranquil mind” implied no activity, but this was active tranquility. How powerful to realize that something I am barely aware of impacts my state of mind and understanding. By sitting with the concept of a tranquil mind it was as though the actual experience could bubble up when I least expected it. This is one reason we human beings live a long time. Much as we think we understand ideas and can change our behavior, it is a mysterious flow of happenings and grace that bring a moment to fruition.